The recent event hosted by Rep. James R. Langevin, D-R.I., and the Rhode Island Small Business Development Center on June 25 at the Johnson & Wales University Culinary Arts Museum to help small businesses was an excellent effort to highlight and spur the development of new, innovative business ideas.
Driving the gathering was the release of new requirements and attributes for the federal Small Business Innovative Research Program. Among them: It’s bigger in terms of dollars, broader in terms of scope, more flexible in terms of corporate structure, and it’s longer in terms of guaranteed duration. It also has added items to help small businesses get involved in government contracting ($5,000 extra on initial awards to get your company equipped to receive a Phase II award for up to $1 million).
The SBIR and other government-funded programs that focus on assisting entrepreneurs can be an effective tool to promote economic development. As a state that continues to struggle in this economic downturn, we must encourage its public officials and the business community to seek out every chance and any opportunity for growth and innovation.
At one time, Rhode Island was a leader in this program. This event was a great first step in making sure Rhode Island companies understand how to access and navigate the bureaucratic maze than often frustrates even the most eager entrepreneur.
The presence of Sean Greene, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s associate administrator for investment and special adviser for innovation, was particularly valuable at this event, in order to facilitate a Washington, D.C., point of contact for small businesses. Kudos to Rep. Langevin for bringing him to the event and sharing his experience and ideas on accessing SBIR funds.
Yet this seminar needs to lead to the most vital step in re-energizing Rhode Island’s governmental agencies. These agencies have to illuminate for businesses their requirements for innovation and solutions.